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What is shortening?
Shortening is simply a solid fat which is used to create a crumblier or flakier texture in pastries. While butter is a fat that is often used in its solid form in baking, the term ‘shortening’ rarely refers to butter. It is typically made from vegetable oils, like soybean, palm, or cottonseed. Most shortenings are made from vegetables, so they’re good for those who are avoiding animal products.
Because of how it’s produced, shortening often does not require refrigeration. Shortening is pure fat, as opposed to butter and margarine, which can have some water and other solids mixed into it. Interestingly, shortening is usually used in place of other fats when baking gluten-free pastries and cakes, as it can actually inhibit gluten formation.
What is shortening in Australia?
If you’re wondering where to get shortening in Australia, the closest that you can get is the Australian vegetable shortening ‘Copha’. It’s a pure coconut fat that’s pretty similar to the American brand Crisco, which is often cited as the shortening of choice for baking.
Shortening is also used to make creamy frostings that can withstand heat better than butter or margarine. Solite is another Australian brand which makes shortening that’s good for icings and won’t melt off easily. Both of these shortenings are vegan, and can be easily found at your nearest Coles or Woolworths.
Are there any good substitutes that I can use?
But what if you prefer a more butter-flavoured product, or you don’t like the texture of shortening? And what if you don’t have time to pop over to the store and grab a block of Copha? Don’t fret: there are other fats that you can use in place of shortening. Just be mindful that you will be getting a different taste or texture, as these fats will be composed of different products.
Also known as lard, this is considered the closest substitute if you can’t find any vegetable shortening around. If you’re not a vegan or vegetarian and you’re fine with using animal products, this is a good fat to use in place. It’s usually made from pig fat, but some richer cooking lards can use duck fat or goose fat to impart a different, richer flavour. This is one of the best replacements you can make for shortening in cooking.
Butter is often mixed with shortening because it creates a more luscious taste without sacrificing the crumblier texture needed in some scones or pie crusts. The proportion of shortening needed in a recipe can be swapped out for around the same amount of butter. This will create some softer or less chewy cookies or crusts. However, if you’re swapping out shortening in a cake or bread recipe, the difference in texture will be practically unnoticeable.
If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly substitute for Copha or Solite, coconut oil is commonly used in place of butter and many other fats. It’s popular in organic baking because it’s a natural, non-hydrogenated fat. It solidifies at room temp and has many beneficial fats, but it is also easy enough to melt for use in baking. Use it as you would any butter or shortening.
If a recipe needs a tablespoon of shortening, you can use a tablespoon of coconut oil instead. Any substitution for coconut oil can be done at a ratio of 1:1.
Like butter, margarine has some water mixed into it, so it can yield a different texture when it is used. If you want to avoid dairy products but still get a buttery flavour, margarine has some flavoured variants which you can use in your baking. Margarine can create a similar texture to products containing butter as well, like a crispier cookie or a more ‘spread’ biscuit’.
Shortening is available all over Australia!
Shortening is actually widely-available in Australia – it just goes by different brand names than it does in the U.S. Now that you know where to get it and what to use it for, you can create the perfect pie crust with just the right texture.
And if you need to make an emergency ingredient swap, the substitutions above will help you get close results without having to pop by the store. It’s all a matter of what kind of flavour or texture you're after in your cooking.
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